Synopsis: Individuals who can materialise weapons from their soul are called “Blazers,” and they attend Kouryou Academy High School in order to harness their abilities. Each student is required to partner with another, in the hopes that one day, the pair can attain the power of Absolute Duo. Tooru Kokonoe hopes to attend this academy in order to gain power after his sister and friends were slain by a mysterious man. However, at the opening ceremony, he is forced to duel against the person sitting next to him, with the loser being expelled. As Tooru prepares to give the match his all, it is not a weapon that manifests from his soul, but a shield, an irregularity which catches the attention of a foreign student named Julie Sigtuna.
Contains minor spoilers- read at your own risk.
I still to this day vividly remember during my childhood playing a game with my family called Sonic Adventure. Me and my brother in particular, spent countless hours rushing through levels and once we had completed it we would do it all again. However, I recently went back to the game after many years and found that, unfortunately, it could not really live up to the nostalgic memories I had painted back in my youth. Not that the game had changed; more that I had changed and that the game had begun looking dated in comparison. I could now see faults that my younger self could not see. Absolute Duo suffers much the same fate, in my personal case, as it is a show I am reviewing after watching for the third time and is a show that I am highly indebted to. I am still happy to call Absolute Duo one of my favourite shows; but that doesn’t mean it’s good.
Let me give you a bit more depth to this, I first watched Absolute Duo when I had just started watching anime. I had seen four or five shows and was browsing one night to see what I could find to watch whilst I ate my fish and chips. Absolute Duo fit the bill; despite being a step outside anything I had ever watched before and after only five minutes I was hooked. I binged the whole show that night and it opened a veritable smorgasbord of genres for me to dip into. Thus, it is with a heavy heart that, on review, the show suffers from some rather large (but not fatal) faults that leave me feeling positively torn.
Absolute Duo is adapted from the light novel series of the same name and this 12-episode adaption covers the first three volumes and some of the fourth. Absolute Duo follows high school student Tooru Kokonoe after his enrolment in a school for Blazers– a group of special individuals who can materialize weapons from their souls called Blaze. The school forces the students into pairs for the purpose of the chairwoman’s goal- Absolute Duo. Tooru meets up with a small foreign girl (loli- to use the technical terminology) called Julie and they become partners; a duo. They are quickly surrounded by an intimate group of friends and the story follows their first few months at the school. The show quickly establishes that maybe not everything is as it seems- as the protagonists are challenged first internally and then by outside forces- with the outside forces wishing to usurp the chairwoman of her power by proving her school to be useless; leaving Kokonoe and the group essentially pieces in a war game against jealous business rivals. In short, the show follows a slice-of-life style pattern alongside a running main plot with smatterings of action and harem action for good measure. This being said, the main antagonist in the show is only a minor antagonist in the grand scheme of the series plot; with the show ending before addressing some of the bigger plot issues found in the source material.
The lead, Tooru Kokonoe, is a typical Shonen harem lead, having a special ability no-one else does (a unique blaze; an irregular), blushing at almost normal situations and effortlessly making the ladies in his life swoon. I do not have a problem with this per se, and he does have some fairly funny lines in the show to differentiate him from the rabble, but initially at least, there is really not much to Tooru. This is partly because his main backstory, his reason for enrolling in the academy, his entire raison d’etre- to gain power to avenge his sister’s death; is only partly looked at and not covered in much depth. However, his relationship with Julie, duo partners and roommates, does bring a paternal side out of the character and helps him develop as a character as the story progresses; allowing himself to come to a realisation about why he wanted to gain power in the first place. Julie is an entertaining female lead in that she is completely innocent and in a way naïve to the nature of the outside world; growing up isolated in her home country. Julie becomes reliant on Tooru as the story progresses; in part to their shared motivation to gain revenge for a loved one. Julie’s power in particular is almost unmatched and she also experiences some minor growth near the end of the series; when she goes berserk and has to rely on Tooru to bring her back down to earth. The relationship between the main two, despite the positives, does raise question marks- as I struggle to see her as a romantic partner for Tooru due to her appearance and her reliance on him as a father figure. The shows insistence on her fan service and pushing the two of them into suggestive positions is therefore slightly distasteful.
The supporting cast includes standard light novel fare- a tsundere, disciplinary chairman-like character (Tachibana), an overly shy, male hating girl who falls in love with the protagonist at the drop of a hat (or a piggyback ride in this case- Miyabi) and the overly aggressive, talented, princess-like student who swans in and acts like they own the place (Lilith). Please don’t misunderstand me; I don’t particularly dislike any of these characters but, unfortunately, they do not seem to be given any sort of notable backstories or anything to help you to relate to them; Miyabi excluded. The backstories given are brief and extremely convenient- with Lilith just happening to hear (from the other side of the world), that like herself, Kokonoe was an irregular so she transferred from Britain to Japan. Instantly. This screams foul ball to me and just points at lazy writing. Moving on to Miyabi, she is the sort of character I have a soft spot for. Shy? – tick. Kind? – tick. Self-deprecating? – double tick. Breasts? – Double D- I mean yes (but damn, her poor back). So, she is the sort of character I always enjoy watching. I do still enjoy Miyabi’s character it’s just that the aftermath of her confession towards Kokonoe- the twist in the tail so to speak, leaves me feeling slightly betrayed in that it was a cheap move. The way she fell for Tooru was cheap to start with- she fell over, so he picked her up- please; if it was that easy I would be a veritable pimp by now. I know that anime has different rules to society but even still, I find it slightly detracts from the effectiveness of the aforementioned twist that the crush so to speak was built on such flimsy foundations. I am not going to comment on Tachibana’s character as she has one use that gets old fast and she does not really contribute very much to the show; again, until right at the end which is a shame.
It is a shame that two of the most interesting characters in the show Bun Bun sensei- extremely apt nickname and the school chairwoman Blaze Diabolica (awesome name) suffer from a severe lack of screen time and characterisation; as their stories are seemingly far more interesting and engaging than any of the main cast. Considering Diabolica in particular is integral to the latter half of the story, this affects your enjoyment somewhat and actually left me confused as to some of the motivations in the climatic scenes. Professor Bun Bun is incredibly entertaining when putting on her act as a teacher but her character has extra depth when you reach the darker depths of her personality and it is a shame that this was not addressed more in the show.
Yet another area where Absolute Duo may irk fans is the copious amounts of fan service littered throughout the show. Just think of any other harem show and crank the fan service up one or two notches and that is about where Absolute Duo is. Don’t get me wrong, I like fan service as much as the next guy; it just has to be done right. Therefore, it is a shame that in Absolute Duo, it just really isn’t. Most scenes are watchable if not entertaining but just the amount of fan service used seems far too over the top for my liking in a show that doesn’t need it in a way that, let’s say To Love Ru does. Absolute Duo does not live or die based on the use of said fan service scenes and it just comes across as poor taste or a lack of confidence in the story that it can survive on its own merits so it stoops to cheapening itself. In particular, the use of Julie when it comes to fan service- not just due to her loli appearance; this by itself is not an issue but combined with the juvenile personality of hers and just the uber-poor execution of the whole thing, it can come across as very forced and uncomfortable to watch. The use, rather- the overuse of fan service does not ruin the show completely but it definitely takes something away from what the show could and probably should have been.
It may seem that I am being unnecessarily picky regarding these things and I would be remiss to mention that there are many things that Absolute Duo does right. The soundtrack is solid- with the Opening song and animation setting the tone for the series and being fairly catchy and the ending theme capturing the light-hearted, relaxed side of the series. The Voice acting is superb as are the sound effects during combat; that are often overlooked but everything is as it should be. The character designs are strong and although the backgrounds do sometimes look rushed and lazy, the animation is smooth, and the art is visually striking- looking great in the fight scenes; in particular the finale. Even the story itself is engaging despite the samey characters- with episode one being a perfect example of twisting one’s expectations in order to subvert them moments later and grip you into the story. The story, despite being littered with various tropes, had plenty of potential to shine and sometimes it really did deliver a memorable experience- if not a consistently good one.
This is where the crux of the problem lies with Absolute Duo; it ends far too soon; as by the time we get to the latter episodes of the show, the pacing becomes slightly rushed. I understand that they are trying to fit as much story in as possible and that, due to the nature of the source material- finding a good stopping point half way through an arc would be difficult. I still regret however that the story ends with very little actually concluded. Yes, the minor antagonist has been defeated but there is so much more going on in the story that has barely been touched; arguably more interesting than what was shown in the adaption. This is the crux of my point; Absolute Duo needed more episodes- possibly a 24-26-episode run would have suited far better. This would allow the main story points; such as allowing the main characters target to actually appear in the show, more information regarding the Blazers, the school, their mysterious chairman and develop upon the character relationships. As it stands, Absolute Duo is forced to rush through a lot of this or miss it out entirely; which is a shame as, even on my third time of watching I was gripped by the story and where it may lead. One of my main motivations in learning Japanese in fact has been to read the original Light Novels so I can continue on the journey; as after two years- barely a murmur has been made regarding a sequel.
This review may simply seem like a 2000-word rant about the show and why it is terrible. Despite my multiple criticisms, Absolute Duo is not a terrible show; it is not even a bad show- it just could have been so much more with a little time. As the show was ending, the story was picking up, the characters were coming into their own and the world was gradually being built up. Absolute Duo needed more time to develop and become what it should have been; a show at the peak of its over-saturated genre. Disappointingly, in the end, it just gets absorbed and joins many other school/action/harem shows in the depths of mediocrity. It hurts me to say this, but the show may simply just be a 12-episode advert for the light novel series. Regardless, thank you Absolute Duo- I owe much of the anime I have seen to you. It is just a shame that we have grown apart.
Absolute Duo Episodic Reviews
Score: 65/100 An okay show that could have been so much more.
Thanks for reading, tell me what you thought of the show and give it a score below!